Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Le Monde Directorate Resigns

The three members of Le Monde's directorate resigned after failing to reach agreement on a budget with the Société des Rédacteurs du Monde. At the heart of the dispute seems to be the question of the Web version of the paper, which is making money, while the paper version is losing.

Chabrol on Sarko

I don't have the time to translate this, but for those who read French, Claude Chabrol's take on Sarko's auto-mise-en-scène is priceless. Thanks to Justin for the tip.

Important European Court Decision (Laval Case)

The European Court of Justice has issued an important and much-awaited decision in the Laval case. The court's decision strengthens the right of labor unions to oppose "social dumping," that is, the use of workers on foreign jobs but paid at lower home-country rates. The details of the complicated decision are well-analyzed by Jean Quatremer here. In short, minimum wages are to be set by host-country law and must apply equally throughout the country (this specifically rules out minimums set by collective bargaining in specific industries), but in return unions may blockade work sites to protest non-compliance with local law.

Petit Poucet et la Dévoreuse d'homme

This being a serious blog, I'm going to outsource the scandal sheet stuff to the reliable Paris correspondent for the Times of London, who is paid by Rupert Murdoch to run it all down. Be sure to watch Closer's video of the happy couple at Disneyland after savoring la Bruni's disapproving remarks on monogamy.

Reality Check: Pensions

France's continuing struggle to keep its pension system solvent rarely makes the news in the United States, and when it does, it is usually to elicit a word of condescension or schadenfreude. If only those French spent less time in cafés and more time in the salt mines, freedom-fry-eating Americans are likely to gloat, they wouldn't be running constantly in the red. So it is good to be reminded that while Americans may spend more hours au charbon, they don't always take care of business as well as they think they do. The federalization (read: Balkanization) of our retirement funding problems keeps their magnitude well hidden. This morning's Times reveals that state pension funds across the US have promised to pay over $2.7 trillion over the next 30 years, and only a fraction of this debt is funded.

Constitutional Reform

François Fillon speaks to Le Monde this morning about constitutional reform. Given the desire to proceed by consensus, it's hardly surprising that the result can't be described as revolutionary. To employ the usual cliché--"it looks like it was designed by a committee"--would be both accurate and unfair to the more inspired committee that designed the U. S. Constitution. All of the more noteworthy proposals have been dropped: there will be no ban on the cumul des mandats (holding of multiple elective offices), no dose of proportional representation in the election of deputies, and no formal redistribution of responsibilities between president and prime minister. Parliament's role will be "strengthened," ostensibly, in "preparation" for a future "presidentialization" of the regime, which Fillon sees as "ineluctable." But for now the prime minister remains the nominal head of government, and the legislature's power to check the executive remains largely hypothetical. There will of course be a great mock battle over the provision to permit the president to address the Assembly directly, as if this measure had one gram of practical import. But this wan "reform" will nevertheless be racked up as one more victory by a president who needs, apparently, to proceed from battle to battle, all banners flying.

There is progress, however. The judiciary would become more independent, as the Superior Council of the Magistracy, now presided over by the president of the Republic, would be taken over by the premier président of the Cour de Cassation, and the minister of justice would no longer have an ex officio seat. And Parliament's powers would be increased somewhat, most significantly by an explicit requirement for legislative approval of any troop intervention lasting more than six months.

Of course it's obvious that the cumul des mandats would cease to be an issue if deputies had enough to do, and sufficient power and influence, that they didn't feel the need to acquire actual power, money, and staff by running for local office. On the other hand, they might discover the time-honored American device of the "local earmark" and quickly drain the French treasury of its remaining sous.

Follow the Money

The Gautier-Sauvagnac affair may be entering interesting territory. The "financial police" conducted a search yesterday at Tracfin, the "money laundering police" arm of the Finance Ministry. Financial police? Money laundering police? Well, never mind the arcana of the French bureaucracy. The point is to follow the money, quite a bit of it, which, as you will recall, Denis Gautier-Sauvagnac, until recently the head of the metals industry association UIMM, withdrew from the group's slush fund for still unexplained purposes over a period of many years. It seems that the financial police suspect that Tracfin had been alerted to these withdrawals by the banks involved but that its investigation into the affair went nowhere until recently, when Tracfin finally transmitted its information to prosecutors. The Canard enchaîné reports that it was Nicolas Sarkozy, when he was finance minister, who ordered Tracfin to put a lid on the inquiry. Initial reports had suggested that Gautier-Sauvagnac was funneling cash to the trade unions, but, in the referenced article, Le Point, of all sources, hints darkly that "investigators are considering all possible avenues, including payments to political parties." More info here. À suivre ....